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|Realization Pt. 2: It that Bleeds|
The Faceless One
July 25th, 2013
Fire... Air... Water... Earth. Currently, the four nations are enjoying a timely era of peace, but this was not always the nature of things. Half a century ago, the last and final Avatar, a waterbender named Korra, vanquished a maniacal extremist who called himself Amon, and hoped to rid the world of bending forever. Sadly, shortly after this triumph, Korra was killed by an illness in her sleep, and, for reasons unknown, was not reincarnated. Though at first her immediate absence was met with worldwide panic, this reaction was short-lived. As the years passed, the wounds left by her disappearance scabbed over, and have now all but faded entirely. Now, is an era of science, and it appears... spiritual figures such as the Avatar are no longer needed to maintain balance. However, there are some that say this peace is the calm before a great storm, one that, if the Avatar fails to return, will reduce the world to ashes. But these few are surely out of their minds. Surely.
Drowning in Midair
Monday, October 3rd, 2072 AD
They had tried to brainwash him. Hiro laughed at the thought; they had underestimated his mind. And all the little things they did manage to take were rushing back right now, as he fanned his vision across the glorious immensity of Republic City far below.
He remembered everything. The experiments, the torturous "skin tests," but most of all, he remembered what they did to Kirima. What they made him watch.
He still didn't quite know what had truly happened to her. He'd heard gunshots, and then, days later, he'd seen her corpse.
But that hadn't been the end of it. The people from the other side had stashed her body in a tank of blue liquid, and left it there for a few weeks. Each day, they would call him out of his cell to watch the microbes in the water go to work on her ripped skin and shattered bones. Why? He still didn't know.
Doctor Stone had mentioned something about "emotional mapping," but he'd never really been listening. He'd just been staring at Kirima's corpse.
It looked like his companion had been hit at point-blank range by a firing squad. And yet, each day, she got a little better. Within days, you could no longer see her intestines. And now, she was set to regain consciousness fairly soon. At least, that's what Hiro assumed. A timer projected inside the glass of the tank had been counting down since that first day. It currently displayed 00: 00: 21:32. Days, hours, minutes, and seconds, he guessed.
Kirima's hand shot out, and the men jumped in unison. Anyu, who was seated next to her, leaned closer as she flattened it against the glass.
Hiro only backed away. Was she waking up? If so, she was almost a day early.
Anyu placed his hand on the tank, just above Kirima's. Her eyes slid open, and focused on him.
She opened her mouth, then shut it. She flexed her fingers, then her toes. She drew a sharp breath, but only sucked up more liquid. Panic filled her eyes as she tried again, and got the same result.
"She's drowning!" Anyu yelled, "Somebody get her out!"
The door to the cargo bay flew open, revealing yet another scientist. This one was a stubby man with a goatee and round glasses. An Alarm pulsed from the cockpit as he smoothed his rumpled lab coat.
"What's going on in here?"
"You heard me!" Anyu screeched, "She can't—"
At that moment, the tank popped with the force of a small bomb. First came the glass, which dug a gash into Anyu's left arm, and split Hiro's shoulder. Then, beads of pressurized water perforated the air, peppering the men with tiny wounds. The chubby scientist had hidden behind the door to avoid the shards, but the spray caught him between the eyes.
"Miles!" the pilot called. The scientist, who was apparently named "Miles," cried out, and crumpled backwards.
Hiro grabbed his shoulder. The cut was deep.
Anyu had curled into the fetal position.
Kirima stood in a wreath of water and glass. Her body was completely dry. And completely naked, but Hiro was too busy trying to stop his bleeding to really focus on that.
He could hear the pilot radioing to the rest of their convoy.
"She's awake!" he screamed.
And he kept on screaming, until Kirima shot an icicle into his neck. Then, all he could do was gargle.
"You idiot!" Hiro seethed through gritted teeth, "you just killed the pilot!"
Kirima wasn't listening. Anger burned in her eyes.
She thrust her arm downward, and water from the floor dripped upwards to encase it. With a flattening of her palm, the water froze to form a gauntlet of solid ice. For most people, busting the cargo bay door down would've been fine. But no, Kirima decided she needed make a new one. In the wall.
Hiro shielded his face as she punched a gaping hole in the plane's hull. The weak outside air fought to drink the cabin's atmosphere, and soon, it ripped Kirima through the breach in a single, ravenous gulp.
Anyu screamed her name over the roar of the hungry wind, but for nothing. She had vanished completely in the blink of an eye.
Jefferson considered himself learned in the art of screaming at others. He'd been honing his craft ever since that stepfather of his had moved in. but even after all his years of training, this latest argument was taking a lot out of him.
Everyone in his jet was standing now, some jabbing fingers at the crashing plane, others shouting about the person who'd "jumped out, and surfed to the city below.
Jefferson hadn't been looking, but apparently, one of the astronauts. A "waterbender," had spun a column of water out of a river cutting through a park, and used it to reach the ground safely.
"Everyone just calm down!" Jefferson shrieked.
The mass of frantic scientists and soldiers fell silent. Thank god, Jefferson thought, that was my last shot.
One more yell, and he'd be croaking like a rusty pipe for weeks.
"Let the nanofibers repair the plane. We've got a mission to complete."
"What mission?" Dr. Stone's voice was steady. "It would appear that the point was to establish a peaceful first contact. Thanks to the waterbender, any chance of that is minuscule."
Jefferson's gaze flicked to the damaged plane. It had lowered itself to a safe altitude to begin repairs, and was currently drifting over a cluster of seaside rooftops. He could just make out citizens below it, scurrying about in surprise and confusion. They looked like ants down there. Right after someone had planted a boot right in the middle of their mound.
Jefferson nodded. "Stone's right," he decided, "Abort everything. Tell the general—"
At that moment, something thudded onto the roof of the plane, vibrating the walls. A pike of ice ruptured the hull, and its tip expanded outward to form a sort of grappling hook.
Jefferson realized exactly what was about to happen. "Everyone get down!"
He dragged Stone to the floor, seconds before a hunk of the wall was ripped clean off by the ice hook. Claws of air raked the men as the pressure levels fought to equalize.
Jefferson looked up, and into the eyes of Kirima, who stared back through the hole. Her hair whipped in the wind, just shrouding her eyes, two disks of sapphire fury.
"Jefferson!" She screamed, "I'd love to let you live..." She grinned wickedly, and brandished an arm encased in ice. "...but I'm afraid that can't be arranged."
Jefferson dove for the bench opposite the ruptured wall, and scurried under it. He charged his sidearm as the other soldiers finally decided it was time to do something
Two burly marines—including that one refrigerator-sized dude from earlier—ripped a pair of rail guns from their charging docks on the wall above Jefferson's bench, and started firing.
Pellets sizzled through the air, but failed to find their target. Kirima had crawled out of sight while the men were gathering their weapons
The air was getting thinner by the minute, and Jefferson stole a breath from a hanging oxygen mask before Kirima came back. The marines did the same. The scientists were huddled in a corner, taking turns with a single mask. A moment of silence. Jefferson was able to focus on the siren that had been blaring for the past ten minutes.
The marines panned their vision over the cabin. Thumps and bangs resonated from the outside. Kirima was crawling on the outside of the plane.
Jefferson primed his pistol.
"You people tore me to shreds," Kirima shouted from the outside, "and then, you kept me in a wet coffin for four weeks.
A drop of water hit Jefferson's nose. He looked up to find that the ceiling was leaking. The marines were noticing it too
Water dripped from tiny seams in the roof, impervious to regular rain. She was guiding the liquid, forcing it through the cracks.
"What do you think?" Kirima yelled from the roof, "Are we having fun yet?" That was it for the marines. They opened fire through the roof, shooting for where the suspected her to be
They were wrong. All their assault did was let more water in. A new stream soaked Jefferson, and he decided it was best to get back under that bench.
The pilot's voice rang out over the torrent. He'd been screaming at the general through the intercom for the past few minutes or so, but now, his tone was especially severe.
"She's on the plane, damn it! Forget 'reinforcements,' we need everything! These people are monsters! Send in the damn Colossus if you have to!
Jefferson heard something shoot through the cockpit ceiling. An Icicle, he guessed. Either way, the pilot wasn't screaming anymore. Shortly after, the command console reported that autopilot had been engaged
Kirima's laughter drifted through the walls. "Alright, enough playing around." Jefferson slithered out to grab another breath, but before he could reach the bag, Kirima let loose her final blow.
A torrent of water surged through the breach, soaking everyone to the bone. Under the bench, Jefferson could see the water rise inch by inch. The marines pounded more holes in the ceiling and walls. Jefferson fought for that breath.
More and more gallons poured in by the minute. Soon, Jefferson was standing in a foot of water. Then two feet. Then three. As the water gobbled up his waste, Jefferson stole a look out the window. The shuttle Kirima had leaped out of had now crashed completely. Its carcass had tunneled a ditch into the river Kirima had used. Red and blue flashes littered the scene, cast by this world's equivalent of firefighters.
The water was up to his shoulders now, and they were losing altitude. It didn't take an idiot to realize they would soon join the first jet in the river. Jefferson searched for the third jet. He could just see it far behind them, backtracking to the wormhole.
Jefferson prayed for their safe passage. Kirima couldn't possibly get to them from here, could she?
The water was up to his chin.
Doctor Stone swam over to him, and Jefferson prepared for a lecture on why he should've left the man to his research, but such a scolding never came.
"Sir," Stone said, "It's been an honor."
Jefferson took of his sunglasses, and met his friend's gaze. "You too, Stone." They shook hands underwater.
Outside the plane, Kirima chuckled to herself as she felt water rise to the ceiling.
Her laughter died, however, when something warm and wet trickled into her eyes. When she finished rubbing them, her knuckles came away covered in blood. She quickly checked her reflection in a handheld globe of water. What she found wrenched a scream from her lungs. A gash was forming on her forehead, winding its way from her left temple to her hairline. On its own.
Kirima felt herself tumbling backward in slow-motion, off the roof of the plane, and down to the river below.
Seconds later, her body thudded into the current.
Chen's hospital ward had a good view of Republic City Park. Too tired to move from his bed, he had witnessed the events of the past hour as they unfolded.
Three beefed up space shuttles had soared out of the wormhole, and then, two of them had crashed into the riverbank just across the street. Well, Chen realized, 'crashed' is a bit of a strong term. Really, they had lowered themselves to the ground with rotating, wing-mounted jet engines, and then been pulverized by crowds of frightened benders. A few nonbenders had fired at the planes with firearms, but the real damaged had come from the earthbenders. A quick rock column through the hull, and it was lights out.
Policemen and firefighters were swarming the wreckage now, cutting holes in the planes with chainsaws. They had already liberated a few survivors. And carted away plenty who hadn't made it.
Min and Tara rested next to him, oblivious of the chaos six floors below.
Ying had been sitting by his bedside, reading an issue of "Comet Girl," but he'd dashed outside the second the jets had landed. Simple things like safety and the law weren't going to get between that guy and the scientific discovery of the millennium.
Chen's left hand was in his pocket, clutching the napkin given to him by Doctor Huang. On it were directions to the man's lab.
His mind was putting two and two together pretty quickly. If he realty was the first Avatar in thirty years, and if there really was a war brewing between the two sides... Wasn't it his duty to stop it? It just seemed so hard to believe.
And then, there was the question of his bending. If he was the Avatar, the sole protector of everything bending... Then why couldn't he bend? He'd tried a few times since the vision in the museum, but so far, all he'd done was embarrass himself in front of the nurses. And, once in front of his parents, when they'd dropped by for a visit without warning.
Here was a nurse now.
The woman hurried over to the blinds, drew them shut, and then put on a brave smile for Chen.
That's great, and all, Chen thought, but, you know, I've already seen everything.
"And how are we doing today?" The nurse asked. Chen could see the worry in her eyes.
"Fine, fine." Chen replied. Needless to say, his mind was elsewhere.
"You'll be feeling a lot better soon, I'm sure!" the nurse replied, "'cause you're free to go! All of you."
Chen glanced at the window. "We are?"
"You bet! Your parents should be here any minute."
Chen leaned back, and closed his eyes. "Sweet," he whispered.
The nurse woke the girls, and ten minutes later, they were sitting together on a sofa in the lobby, watching the aftermath of the crash across the street through the translucent front doors.
Ying had joined them seconds earlier.
"It's a real mess out there," he reported, "This one guy had his head burnt clean off! And then there was this other two—a science-looking guy and a freakish pale dude in a suit—who almost drowned. Inside the plane." He stood up, and started waving his hand around like a fighter jet, all the while making the noise of rocket engines. "The technology on those things're amazing," he continued, "each one's twice the size of your average airship! And yet they fly like nobody's business."
Chen smiled. He was glad to see somebody was getting a kick out of all this.
"Man, if I could just get my hands on some blueprints, or an engine, or something..."
At that moment, Chen's parents burst through the double doors. As they neared, Chen noticed them to be locked in a heated argument.
"I'll tell you why he's out of the picture, Hong," Chen's Mom growled, "He's practically a criminal. That mansion of his is built on the lives of those poorer than him."
"He did what he had to support his family," His dad shot back, "after the university, he and Jing had nothing."
"Well, I wouldn't call his private airship 'support'. He may have had good intentions once, but now he's just showing off."
Both suddenly realized they had been fighting in front of their children, and tried to cover it up with smiles and cheery greetings.
"Hi, kids!" both exclaimed.
If they grinned any wider, Chen worried their faces might tear off.
"Ying, we're giving you a ride," Chen's Mom informed, "and Tara, your mom left the island half an hour ago; she should be here any minute."
Ying, Chen, and Min rose to leave with Hong and Jia, exchanging farewells with Tara as they headed for the door.
Ying ran ahead, and Chen heard his parents resume their argument in hushed tones as he and Min raced to catch up.
"So who were you guys talking about?" Ying blurted once they'd all piled into the car. "Who built his life on the poor?"
Jia and Hong shared a glance.
"Chen's uncle Jun," Hong stated. "We just... might be visiting him soon."
This was the first Chen had heard of this, but he decided to remain silent. He didn't want to reignite the argument.
Instead, he turned to Ying, who was scrawling something on his hand with a pen.
"Just figuring something out," he explained, noticing Chen's interest, "If the wormhole remains open for the foreseeable future, whoever sent those planes is going to realize what we did to them, and send more. Those things are crazy advanced, a century ahead of us at least. If they send an army of those over here..."
"Okay!" Jia spoke up, "let's not be negative about this. The URSA is already working on a way to close the wormhole. I'm sure we'll hit a breakthrough soon, and all of this will be nothing more than a bad memory."
Chen smiled for her benefit. Ying just kept staring at his hand.
Not surprisingly, Ying's aunt wasn't home. He decided to hang out at Chen's until she showed up, which was common practice for the boys.
After Hong and Jia ventured upstairs for a nap, Min led the pair out to her "dojo" in the backyard, which more closely resembled a large patch of dirt permeated with rock pillars and crystal spikes.
Chen grimaced. He'd never been this far into enemy territory before.
"Show him," Min instructed, after they'd found seats around a battered training dummy.
Chen fished the napkin out of his pocket. When Ying asked, he told him what it was.
"You mean the Doctor Huang?" Ying squealed, "That guy's a visionary! All my inventions are inspired by his work!"
Min frowned. "Well, he's dead now."
"But he left us his lab!" Chen said, trying to salvage Ying's good mood, "We think it might finally give us some answers about the wormhole. And the jets."
"I guess we should check it out," Ying sniffed, "Should your mom drive us?"
Min thought for a moment. "No way. I don't want to scare them any more than we have to. If we actually get some decent info from this thing, we can share it with them then."
Chen figured disagreeing with her might not be something he and Ying would get out of alive, so the boys nodded in unison.
"Great," Min said, "it's about half an hour's ride if we take the bus."
"Or..." Ying began, "less than ten if we take something else."
Chen glared daggers at him. "Never again."
And so, they took the buss. The usual crowd was present; hobos cocooned in trash bag ponchos, triad wannabes lighting up in the rear seats, and more than a healthy helping of your average weirdo.
One guy hobbled up to Chen, and asked him to smell his dental wax.
Min had a history of beating up the people who hit on her, but with all these witnesses around, she couldn't pop a guy with a rock without attracting some bad attention. She had to just sit there, grinding her teeth, as dental wax man complimented her on her hair's "density" and "strand width."
When they finally pulled up to Huang's neighborhood, Min looked ready to end some lives.
Thankfully, though, Chen and Ying were able to drag her out of the buss before things got out of hand.
"So... this is the place," Min announced as they rounded the final bend.
Chen had to admit; he'd been expecting something a little more... sciencey? Maybe sanitary?
Either way, Huang's place or residence was pretty disappointing. A narrow apartment complex rose before them, sporting scarred paint and cracked windows. Chen spotted a few window units here and there, but somehow, he knew Huang's place would be one without heating. In this weather, that meant hell on earth.
They had to mount six flights of stairs to reach the scientist's apartment, because the elevator squeaked like a dying rat, and Chen didn't fancy falling to his death halfway up.
By the time they got there, Chen was shaking like a tectonic event, and breathing enough fog to hide a battleship. Ying shared his pain. The boy rubbed his hands together, trying to salvage some warmth.
Min was obviously trying to hide the reaction, but she had to visibly clench her teeth to stop them from vibrating.
"Finally!" Ying chattered, slumping against the door. He pawed at the knob for a little while, until Min's shaking hand was actually able to turn it. He fell inwards as the door swung ajar.
"Just... leave me down here."
Chen and his sister stepped over him and into... utter chaos.
The Toilet Warps Space
Chen didn't use that word lightly. He'd been to Ying's lab—which made Min's training crater look neat—and, of course, there was his room, which was a cesspool of decay. Even so, this place was something else. The suite itself had only a single room, which might've been large at one point, but now felt more like a broom closet, thanks to all the junk covering literally every surface.
The stove also served as Bunsen burner, covered in beakers of all sizes. The couch was crowded with five centrifuges, and the bed doubled as a workbench. It was littered with gears, and sheet metal, as well as a few decapitated telephones and various other butchered gizmos.
In the southwest corner lay a metal crate marked "Radioactive."
"Alright, guys," Min said, taking a seat on the crate, "if you were scientists, where would you hide 'all the answers?'"
"You got me," Ce muttered. He walked toward a sofa, and crouched behind it so that only the top of his head poked out. He wanted to be protected in case Min happened to fart on the uranium rods.
Ying stood up, and dusted himself off. "Okay, first of all, I am a scientist," He insisted, "But if I were Huang... maybe over there?" He indicated a blueprint tacked on the south wall, just above an overstuffed workbench.
Min and Ying walked over for a closer look, while Chen oozed out of his hiding place.
Ying surveyed the diagram. Chen recognized a satellite dish, and the nuclear rods from before, but the rest was anybody's guess. The body kinda resembled a portable toilet crossed with a radio tower.
Ying was in awe. "This is amazing," he breathed, "The device uses a coordinate-driven interface to blast a breach into the fabric of time-space. Factor in values for planetary rotation, axial tilt. Pump in some negative energy to stabilize the hole..."
"Can you just tell us what it is?" Min snapped.
"Right, right. Most of the technology is light-years ahead of anything else I've seen, but from these schematics, it seems as though we're looking at a sort of wormhole machine."
"You don't mean," Chen began.
"But a piece of paper can't send in planes from another planet," Chen reasoned, "He would've had to build the thing." Chen glanced from one pile of junk to the next. "Where do you think he hid it?"
Ying grinned. "Well, that's easy." His eyes drifted upward.
"Come on, Chen. It's on the roof."
Five more hellish flights later, the trio stumbled out onto the rooftop. If possible, it was even colder up here than it had been indoors.
Chen spotted the toilet machine first, wedged between a pair of chimneys.
He indicated his discovery, and the gang quickly trotted over. The shingles crunched ominously beneath their feet. Chen decided to force thoughts of plummeting through a guy's ceiling out of his mind. He'd had enough of collapses.
Ying knocked on the device's plastic exterior. A metal frame enclosed most of it, and he had to reach through a gap in the beams to do this.
"So, do we go inside?" Min asked.
"Let me," Ying volunteered, "the plumbing's been out at my place for weeks. I'm kinda an expert at this."
He reached for the handle, and pulled the door open.
Chen wasn't sure what he thought would be in there. Maybe a toilet filled with uranium? Heck, maybe he thought Huang would be in there, called back from the Spirit World to poop upon the living.
He was wrong on both fronts. Inside, he found that the toilet had been covered by a large computer cabinet, surrounded by a ring of wire-bound power cells. A chair was placed before the cabinet, with an intricate keyboard lying on top of it.
Min narrowed her eyes. Chen studied a set of Tesla coils hanging from the ceiling. Ying cut out the studying part and plopped right down in the command chair. He punched a few commands into the keyboard, and grinned as the screen sputtered to life.
At first, there was only static. Then, Doctor Huang's face blew out of the snowstorm. Was this actually a television? If so, why the keyboard?
"If you're watching this," Huang's face crackled, jarring Chen out of his inner thoughts, "then I must've been reclaimed by Xinzang, the blood spirit. You've probably met him by now. Hard to miss really, he'd got this heart for a face..." Huang cleared his throat. "Chen, you've got questions. You want to know who you are, what all this wormhole business has to do with you. I can tell you this: the machine you're looking at is not of my design. I merely built it, to the instructions of Xinzang. It is capable of opening doorways to faraway lands. The Older Earth is one of them, as is the Spirit World." Huang focused on something off camera. "But it cannot close them. Once a breach is open, it remains that way permanently."
Chen wanted to put a fist through the TV. Could this old guy really be responsible for the wormhole?
"Chen, I'm just a scientist. I can't tell why you're the first Avatar in 30 years, or what your role is in this industrialized world. But I can send you to someone who can." He scratched his chin. "You're aware of Korra's disappearance, yes? Or course you are. A lot of teens talk about it these days. Anyhow, I believe, that her comatose state was caused by her soul's inability to cross back into our mortal world. Sometime ago, she journeyed to the Spirit World, and Xinzang trapped her there. When he was inside my head, Xinzang kept me pretty updated on what was going on. He told me Bolin had recovered Korra's body, and that he had, on Xinzang's orders, also kidnapped you. He hoped that by releasing a small portion of Korra's spirit through a wormhole, it would flow from her physical body and into yours the second you touched. Thus finally exposing her body to entropy, and turning you into the Avatar."
"So, what?" Chen asked, "Xinzang wanted me to become the Avatar?"
Huang continued talking, oblivious to Chen's inquiries. You idiot, Chen scolded himself, it's a damn recording.
He glanced at Min, and found her face impossible to read. It would've been easier to decode a pile of rocks.
"You must use this machine to open another doorway to the Spirit World," Huang went on, "once there, Avatar Korra will find you, and fill you in on everything you need to know."
Something moved in the edge of the shot. A shadow in the corner of the lab was twitching. Huang reached to shut off his camera, but before he could, the shadow unfurled from the fetal position, and stood up. The dark shape stalked over to Huang, teeth flashing in the semidarkness. Huang screamed, and the shape swatted him in the side, sending him flying into the wall.
Chen knew who the creature was even before it stepped into the light.
Ying and Min grimaced as Xinzang reared his heart-head.
"Hello, Chen," he wheezed, "please, come quickly. We have so much to talk about."
The fiend's smile faded as the scene was swallowed by a sea of static.
Min turned to Chen, and poked him between the ribs. "Okay, buddy. You've got some explaining to do."
A colossal roar filled the air before Chen could muster a reply. His eyes darted up, and he gasped in horror at what they found.
There were ten of them. Ten beefed-up space shuttles, soaring out of the wormhole in perfect formation.
"Quickly!" Ying shouted, "Everybody into the toilet!"
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